Vietnam Human Rights Defenders’ Weekly Report for March 16-22, 2020: Activists Continuously Being Harassed, Intimidated amid Covid-19 Outbreak



Defend the Defenders | March 22, 2020


Despite an increasing number of Covid-19 infected nationwide, Vietnam’s security forces continue to intimidate and harass local human rights defenders for their peaceful activities.

Police in Hoa Binh province conducted a number of visits to the family of former prisoner of conscience Can Thi Theu regarding their residence, a move to revenge for their assistance given to Dong Tam villagers.

Meanwhile, Vice President of the unregistered Independent Journalists Association of Vietnam (IJAVN) Nguyen Tuong Thuy has been asked to go to police station regarding activities of IJAVN’s President Pham Chi Dung, who was arrested in late November 2019 and charged with “conducting anti-state propaganda.” The police came to his private residence in Hanoi several times during the week to request him to go for interrogation, however, he refused, saying he is not healthy and has nothing to report.

After chasing them for the last eight years, Vietnam’s security forces have arrested three leaders of the unregistered religion group Ha Mon. The three detainees may face the trumped-up allegation of “Sabotaging implementation of solidarity policies” under Article 116 of the Penal Code, like hundreds of other religious activists in the northern mountainous region and the Central Highlands who were sentenced to between six and 18 years in prison for their efforts to promote religious freedom.

On March 16, the US Department of State issued a press release calling on Vietnam’s communist regime to immediately release blogger Truong Duy Nhat, who was sentenced to ten years in prison by the People’s Court of Hanoi on the allegation of “abusing power” in mid-March, and other prisoners of conscience as well as allow all individuals in Vietnam to express their views freely and assemble peacefully without threat of retribution, in accordance with its international obligations and commitments and consistent with Vietnam’s constitution.

Vietnam’s police have increasingly abused their power, persecuting online bloggers for their posts regarding social issues, including the Covid-19 pandemic. More than 600 Facebookers have been summoned to police stations for interrogation about their posts about the Coronavirus outbreak and more than 150 of them were imposed fines of between VND7 million ($300) and VND15 million.

And other news

===== March 16 =====

Sentencing of Blogger and Radio Free Asia Contributor Truong Duy Nhat

Press statement of the US Department of State

We are dismayed by the conviction of blogger and Radio Free Asia (RFA) contributor Truong Duy Nhat, and his sentencing to 10 years imprisonment.  The conviction is under vague charges related to fraud allegations dating back nearly 20 years.  We remain troubled by Nhat’s sudden disappearance from Bangkok, Thailand on January 25, 2019, the day after he initiated a request to register as a refugee with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), and his reappearance in a Vietnamese prison three months later.

The United States calls on Vietnam to immediately release Nhat and all prisoners of conscience and to allow all individuals in Vietnam to express their views freely and assemble peacefully without threat of retribution, in accordance with its international obligations and commitments and consistent with Vietnam’s constitution.


Vietnamese Female Activist Cao Vinh Thinh Named among Five World Women Making Change for Better Future

Defend the Defenders: On the occasion of International Women’s Day that took place on March 8, Mashable Southeast Asia has publicized its list of inspiring Southeast Asian women who are making a change in the world.

Among them is Vietnamese activist Cao Vinh Thinh, who is very active in protecting the environment despite harassment from the communist regime.

As an economics reporter in Vietnam, Ms. Thinh saw first-hand how major corporations were harming the natural environment.

“I became a journalist in Vietnam because I want to tell true stories to the viewers, but the government does not allow us to report any [critical] news,” Cao said to the Southeast Asia Globe.

Since then, Thinh has founded the social movement of Green Trees Vietnam. The group documents environmental abuses while also voicing concerns about climate change in Vietnam. Because of their bold activism, members of Green Trees have been arrested or detained by the police.

Even so, Thinh refuses to back down and continues with her work. Currently, she is running a zero-waste shop in Hanoi with aim to encourage people not to use nylon bags while purchasing groceries.

For further reading: 5 brave Southeast Asian women making a change for a better future

===== March 17 =====

Vietnam’s Police Summon 654 Facebookers, Imposing Fines on 146 Bloggers for Posting about Coronavirus

Defend the Defenders: Vietnam’s state-controlled media has reported that 654 Facebookers have been summoned to the police stations for interrogation about their posts on the social network about the deadly Coronavirus outbreak, and 146 of them have been fined of between VND10 million ($430) and VND12.5 million.

Citing the information from the Ministry of Public Security, newspapers reported that there have been around 900,000 posts on social networks about the devasting disease coming from China’s Wuhan since its outbreak in late 2019.

The ministry said numerous articles and videoclips posted on Facebook and other social networks are untrusted or unverified which are harmful to the public. A number of famous figures have also disseminated “fake news,” the ministry said.

On February 12, the Department of Information and Communication in Ho Chi Minh City imposed an administrative fine of VND10 million on celebrities Dam Vinh Hung, Cat Phuong and Ngo Thanh Van for posting “untrue information,” local outlet said without giving details.

Newspapers have reported that in early March, Hanoi police detained a local resident named K.P.T. after he said on Facebook that the Covid-19-infected patient number 17 had participated in a number of public events few days before having disease symptoms while the police said she had been self-quarantined after landing in Noi Bai International Airport in a flight from London.

In mid-March, several Facebookers disseminated that Nguyen Quang Thuan, former chairman of the Vietnam Academy of Social Sciences and incumbent vice chairman of the ruling communist party’s Central Theoretical Council, had visited his girlfriend-lover immediately after arriving in Hanoi from the same flight with the patient No. 17, three days before being hospitalized for the urgent treatment of Coronavirus. Police said the information is not corrected and fined these bloggers.

According to statistics of police, authorities in Hanoi have worked with 44 Facebookers about online posting with “incorrect information” while the number in the central province of Thanh Hoa was 20 and the northern province of Lao Cai- six.

All of them have been forced to admit that their posts were with “fake content” and delete their posts as well as pledge not to repeat.

There has been no case in which a Facebooker is criminally probed for their “incorrect posts” regarding the Wuhan virus spreading, according to the local media.

Along with taking measures to prevent Coronavirus from spreading, Vietnam’s authorities have been cracking down Facebookers and bloggers who try to deliver timely and valuable information about the deadly outbreak given the state-controlled media has been restricted to disseminate information to the republic. Tens of millions of Vietnamese have relied on the social network as the communist regime is implementing strict censorship.

Vietnam, bordered with China- the world epicenter of Coronavirus with tens of thousands of people infected and thousands of deaths, and has never closed its border gates with the northern country, has reported only 60 infected. In recent months, there have been a number of cases in which people suddenly died in different locations but the local authorities reported later that their deaths have not been related to the deadly virus. The regime tends to make the disease consequences lighter or even hide them in fear of affecting the country’s economic growth, the sole reason for the communists to keep their power.

It seems that Vietnam’s authorities have not learned the lesson from China in the case of medical doctor Li Wenliang, who tried to warn his colleagues about the deadly potentials of the Wuhan virus but was summoned and disciplined by China’s police before dying from the disease in early February this year.

===== March 18 =====

Vietnam’s Security Forces Continuously Intimidate, Harass Local Activists

 Defend the Defenders: Vietnam’s security forces are continuously intimidating and harassing local activists regardless of Covid-19 outbreak in the capital city and other localities.

Former prisoner of conscience and land rights activist Can Thi Theu said the Hoa Binh province’s police and local authorities in Ngoc Luong area have come to her family’s farm in recent days to deliver a summon demanding the family present themselves at the police office to “clarify their place of residence.”

According to her son Trinh Ba Tu, who is also a human rights defender, said this was an “act of revenge’ against his family by the authorities, as his family has been reporting on the Dong Tam massacre.

He said his brother Trinh Ba Phuong, a rights activist, had been provoked, bashed and detained by the police previously, while he had been followed by thugs.

“Authorities want to trap then detain the activists. They can frame us in order to arrest members of our family,” said Tu, who was brutally beaten by police when he and other activists and relatives went to the Prison camp No. 5 in Thanh Hoa province to greet his parents when they completed their imprisonment. Both Mrs. Theu and her husband Trinh Ba Khiem were imprisoned for their efforts to protest land grabbing in their Duong Noi commune in the capital city of Hanoi.

Meanwhile, Mr. Nguyen Tuong Thuy, acting president of the unsanctioned Independent Journalists Association of Vietnam (IJAVN) reported that he and many other activists have also been subject to continual surveillance by the police who prevent them from leaving their homes.

In the morning of March 16, the police came to his house to deliver a summon dated Mar 13 demanding him to present himself at the police investigation bureau office in Hanoi on March 17 regarding activities of IJAVN’s Dr. Pham Chi Dung, who was arrested on November 21, 2019 and charged with “anti-state propaganda.”

Mr. Thuy wrote that he told them he would not comply with their request, as – among other reasons – he is in bad health; even if he could come to the police office, he wouldn’t be able to provide any further information about Dr. Dung.

Like many parts of the world, Vietnam is currently focusing on fighting Covid-19 pandemic. Many countries ask their citizens to stay indoors. And yet Vietnamese police continue to harass its citizens, summoning them for unnecessary reasons, this is contrary to the anti-pandemic measures.

They want to flex their power or terrorize dissidents, Mr. Thuy said.


Hmong Accused of Subversion: Two with Life Imprisonment, Nine Others with Total 84 Years in Jail

Defend the Defenders: Vietnam’s authorities have convicted 11 people from Hmong ethnic minority of subversion for their plan to establish an independent state in the country’s northwestern region, according to the state-run media.

After three days, on March 18, the People’s Court of the northwestern province of Dien Bien found 11 Hmong people guilty of “attempts to overthrow the people’s government” under Article 109 of the Penal Code, sentencing Sung A Sinh and Lau A Lenh to life imprisonment, giving 20 years in prison to Hoang Van Pao.

Eight others Sung A Do, Giang A Va, Sung A Sinh, Giang A Dia, Giang A Sinh, Ho A Hu, Chang A  Sua and Hoang Van Cho were sentenced to eight years in jail each.

According to the indictment, under the leadership of Sung A Sinh and Lau A Lenh, the defendants formed a group to fight for more autonomy for Hmong people and the possible establishment of an independent state.

Hmong is one of more than 50 ethnic minorities in Vietnam. During the Vietnam War, Hmong people sided with the American forces to fight against the communist troops. After taking over the southern region, the communist regime has harassed Hmong people for revenge.

Facing constant persecution, Hmong people have fought back. In 2011, thousands of Hmong people gathered in Muong Nhe district to demand for more autonomy and their native land overtaken by Viet majority. Their uprising was violently suppressed by Vietnam’s communist regime which reportedly deployed heavily-equipped army and police to persecute Hmong people. Some deaths were reported and hundreds of others were imprisoned.

Defend the Defenders has contacted Hmong activists exiled in Thailand about the group convicted today. One guy told Defend the Defenders that the group may be linked to the US-based Hmong people who encourage people in Vietnam to demand for more autonomy and set up an independent state for Hmong people.

Related article: Vietnam Jails Two Hmong Men For Life in Alleged Campaign to Set up Separate Ethnic State

===== March 19 =====

Three Ha Mon Religious Leaders Arrested after Being Chased by Police in 8 Years

Defend the Defenders: Vietnam’s authorities have arrested three leaders of the unregistered religious group named Ha Mon after chasing them in the past eight years, according to state-run media.

Accordingly, Mr. Kunh, 28, Lup, 48, and Jur, 56, were arrested on March 19 in the Jo Mong mountain, Hra commune, Mang Yang district, Gia Lai province.

Media reported that despite being sought by police and forced to live in the forest in the past eight years, the trio has been working to promote religious freedom in the Central Highlands.

They are facing lengthy imprisonment for the allegation of “Sabotaging implementation of solidarity policies” under Article 116 of the Penal Code, like hundreds of other religious activists in the northern mountainous region and the Central Highlands who were sentenced to between six and 18 years in prison.

Ha Mon is an unregistered Christian sect established in 1999 among ethnic minorities in the Central Highlands. It is considered as illegal by Vietnam’s communist regime which strives to control all religions and make all efforts to eradicate all the unsanctioned sects and halt activities of the registered ones.

In its report in 2011, Human Rights Watch condemned Vietnam’s persecution against many religious groups, including Ha Mon.